CNN's Anjali Rao spends time with the Indian Premier League's controversial founder Lalit Modi as CNN Talk Asia gains unprecedented access to his world.
Modi discusses some of the recent controversies in the cricketing world, his inspiration for the IPL and its impact in India and beyond. He also defends what critics call his "dumbing down" of traditional cricket and addresses allegations against him of drug trafficking.
Lalit, how does it feel to look around and go -- I did this?
It's a great feeling to find that you can fill a whole stadium up with this kind of enthusiasm that the people have. And you can see that the game hasn't even started today and they're all so lively. And it's absolutely an incredible feeling. It feels great to be able to create a product that everybody loves. And I just happen to be there -- at the right time, at the right moment. And followed the opportunity and were able to go out and launch it.
How fired up do you get when you come to matches? I mean, there must be a lot of stress involved as well. Are you ever to be found on the sidelines tearing your hair out?
There's a lot of stress. Before a match, before every match, the amount of issues that we have are tremendous. Today itself, there are security issues. There's a statement being issued by a political party saying that Pakistani players should be thrown out. And you have to deal with them. You have to deal with the players, their state of mind, and convince everybody that this is the right place and the right tournament. And it's just amazing. I mean, I can't believe it. It's just amazing. Can you see the crowds?
Really American isn't it?
It is -- to a certain extent. We added a lot of music to the games. I think it provides entertainment for the crowds and between breaks. People are able to lap it up and enjoy it -- it's an evening out. A Bollywood movie is three hours. This is a three hour function. A lot of good food and catering and popcorn and ice cream for the kids. And you know, snacks for everybody and something for everybody to do.
Lalit, when you look around the crowds, there's a lot of Bollywood celebrities. You, yourself, are a celebrity these days, but do you ever get star struck?
No, they're all friends of mine. I've known them for a long, long time. It's nice to have them here because it adds to the flavour. It gets the crowds all excited and I think they add a lot to the game. And I'm very happy that they're all part of it. And we're all one big happy family now.
Good looking girls, cheerleaders, great game, great atmosphere -- and this is what it's all about.
How did you go about taking a game that is so traditional, so ingrained and so long, and turn it on its head to say, let's do this another way and make sure that it works?
I didn't go out actually and design the game -- the game was designed by somebody in England. What happened is that we in India, had never embraced it and many countries around the world hadn't taken it on. What happened is that a year ago, when we were searching what is it that we must have to do to survive domestic cricket, we said why don't we look at a Twenty20 format?
And like you said, the sceptics out then said that Twenty20 is not a cricket format that anybody is going to follow, it's not something that the public is going to embrace, it's just gimmicks and bells and whistles and we did a lot of research and we found that if we took this three hour format, it's like a movie, all movies in India are three hour formats. And it's probably going to be the biggest reality show if we are able to really make it competitive and people don't know what's happening or who is going to win and if you get the right players to play we have a winning formula.
Convincing yourself is one thing, how did you go about convincing the public in a place that is just obsessed with cricket?
My first task, when we conceived this tournament was to try and see if I can convince all the best players in the world to come and be part of the IPL. Because if we didn't have the players, there was no way that we were going to go out and get the broadcaster in the first place, and get the franchisees in the second place. And the fans are very discerning and for them, they want to see stars and they want to see competitive cricket and if you had the best players in place, there is no reason why the fans wouldn't come to the stadium.
In the process, you have been taking away TV ratings, from things like you know soap operas and game shows things that rated very well before you came along. Did you see that coming?
The entire focus was on soap operas. And there was huge cry that this is not going to happen. We'll never be able to take money away from the soap operas and put it into cricket and for me it was very, very important to enlarge the pie because cricket has such a big pie and the pie is only so big and we already control that pie with the one-dayers and the International cricket and the Test cricket and with the ICC, International Cricket Council games, and there's only so much money in cricket that the advertisers are ready to spend.
We wanted to bring in new advertisers into the game of cricket and how do we do that? It's to target the soap operas and if want to take the viewership away from the soap operas than there would be a problem with the revenue of the IPL.
You know some people paint you as this ruthless juggernaut who will stop at absolutely nothing to get your way. How accurate a portrayal is that?
If you look at the history of the Board of Control of Cricket in India, if one wasn't ruthless in doing what we had to do and what the mandate was given to me to do, we won't succeed. The reason being is there are so many vested interests, and had been vested interest with cricket and sports in general, and I would know that better than anybody else because I was on the other side of the fence.
I was the one who ran ESPN and I joined ventures with ESPN in 1993 to bring them into India and powers that be within the game always had this hidden agenda for themselves. And for the mandate that the current president gave me was to be ruthless and so I am ruthless, without doubt. Otherwise, we wouldn't get where we were.
If you were to draw me a picture of your mind right now. What would it be, this chaotic scribble of mess or would it be neatly organized serene compartments of cool?
Serene compartments of cool. Everything is in folders and stacked up very nicely.
So your phone rings off the hook. You get several hundred e-mails every single day. Every single one of them has to be answered by you personally.
Don't you reach a point ever where you go -- no more, that's it, leave me alone, everybody now?
All the time. Just want to get everybody out of my hair and throw the phone away. And just get out and be on a beach resort somewhere. And that's it.
But you can't?
I can't. I wish I could. And one day I will I hope. And that's what I'm looking for.
With everything that you have, no matter how hard you may have worked for it. Is it difficult to look at that and then reconcile it with the desperate poverty that so many Indians are living with?
I mean it's a difficult thing to comprehend and to keep with at the back of your mind. At the end of the day, one has to keep reminding themselves that we live in a country that there is a lot of poverty and we have to go and do things for the people. And my one way of giving back is the time that I give for the people, with this cricket.
How do you discern between those who really genuinely care about you the person as opposed to those who just want to ride the Modi Express?
It's a judgement call and at the end of the day, I have very few close friends. And I basically don't socialise much. I spend a lot of time with the family if I can outside working hours. There are not too many of those. So you just take it one day at a time and carry on. And yes there are those that want to ride the express but you take it stride and carry on.
Philosophical questions. Is there such a thing as having too much?
There's never such a thing as having too much. I don't believe in that.
The IPL also uses players from other countries in Twenty20 matches. How does that fit in within the whole sort of Indian patriotism of this game?
This was a big question. One of the key factors for success of the IPL was, in my view prior of launching the IPL, was if you could see an Indian icon player getting out by a foreign player -- for me that will be the test, a litmus test to decide whether the IPL worked and we saw that, Rahul Dravid, the ex-captain of India, came to play in Mumbai, he was booed by the fans.
I didn't think personally would happen in the first season I thought it would take a few years for that to develop, but it happened instantly and that too, is the biggest surprise.
Take the example of Shoaib Akhtar. Shoaib debuted 3 days ago, he played his first match. He had been banned by the Pakistan Cricket Board and we had to unfortunately ban him also. The ban was lifted a week ago and he was able to come and play for the Kolkata Knight Riders in Shah Rukh Khan's team and he played the first match. He bowled 3 overs, his first three overs he took 4 wickets, he changed the fortune of the team. A team that was declining all of a sudden started to go back up and the people loved him and he became the hero and he was the man of the match.
Let's just talk about the ICC briefly, your favourite people.
My favourite people yes.
They've warned their players not to try and get out of scheduled tours so that they can come and play IPL matches. With this being such a new venture, are you worried that international players might, that this might just be a passing fad for them?
Not really. Number one it's the richest paying tournament to all the players. As far as the players are concerned, they make more money playing the IPL, and they basically play 14 games. They make more money playing 14 games over a 6 to 8 week period than they make in probably five years time playing for their country. And secondly this is a tournament, as I said, which is an off-season tournament, most cricket boards apart from England, and maybe to a certain extent the West Indies, have their season at this point in time. But majority of the other eight countries finish their season by end of May, Ah! sorry end of March. And April and May are the two months where they actually play no cricket.
And as far the ICC is concerned, and when you say that they have warned, it's not ICC. ICC consists of its members and we are one of its members too. We all feel that there is no reason that we should cut back from our international tours and play the IPL or any other tournament, as a matter of fact. And I'm a big proponent of that myself because for me, I also am responsible for the BCCI's marketing of international tours and that for us is a golden goose.
You were born into a wealthy family, which made its fortune in business interests. What did they make of your decision to change track into sports?
They were perturbed by the fact that I'm moving out of business now and spending so much time with cricket. They didn't think that I'll be spending so much time with cricket, and cricket has taken up so much time of my time, but the job has made it so demanding. Either I do it well, and if I do it well then I need to give the time for it because BCCI doesn't have any professionals that work for them. Everybody works for the BCCI in an honorary capacity so you have to give it your all or it's going to falter.
But now they are very happy and very excited that the IPL has worked and it has given me the recognition without any doubt and that makes up for everything that's to do with business I guess.
Do you get recognised?
Very much so yes, everywhere I go now. And that's the hard part because it's good at one way and on the other hand you get mobbed and it's a difficult scenario as far as that's concerned.
Were you into cricket as a kid?
I played cricket in school and I enjoyed watching it, but never professionally, no.
Did you ever think that you'd be making a living out of it?
Uh no, never, never. No, no, never.
Aside from the IPL, though, you do still have your own business interests right? You're still involved in the family enterprise?
Oh very much so, very much involved with it and expanding it very rapidly, also going forward and keeps me busy 24 hours a day.
We were talking before about some of the scandals surrounding cricket. You yourself have been no stranger to controversy, in the past there were allegations of drug dealing and abduction. Although nothing was ever proven, what did you go through at that particular time in your life?
I thought that with all being done, and being raked up by people as I said earlier who had a vested interest in the game... (Anjali Rao: Vested interest meaning?) Meaning that people who had, who wanted to take away from the game for themselves and all the dealings of the Board were underhand. And when I campaigned, and I've been campaigning for, you know, ten years and saying that the Board officials were corrupt, to say the least, and we need to clean it up. And they started to rake up things in my history that may have been true or not been true and wanted to discredit me and I had 147 lawsuits against me for being on the Board of Cricket Control of India.
So you are not saying the allegation were true or not?
No, they weren't true at all. It was a conspiracy to buy drugs when I was in college in America. There was a charge that was made on the whole fraternity and I happened to be in a fraternity in college in America. And it was something that was thrown away by the courts and the judicial system in America and it was something that happened when I was in my teens in college in America, and this was something that was brought up by people a few years ago to discredit me from holding an office as an honorary position in the Board of Control of Cricket in India. That's all what it is all about.
So there's you know a lot of people making a lot of money off the IPL, but you're not one of them?
No I'm not one of them, unfortunately not.
Well, I do this in an honorary position and BCCI is a charity and a trust. It's a non-profit making organization and we do this for development of the game and I'm passionate about the game. And we do this so that the people in India can enjoy the facilities and we can build a great cricketing culture and we can have great facilities for our players.
Is there anything professionally or personally that you want for yourself that you don't have yet?
Time. Yes running business, running the Board of Control of Cricket, the IPL, and being part of the marketing and running part of that takes a lot of your time. You are always constantly on the move, and really you have no time for yourself and for your family and your children and that has really taken up a lot.
Professionally, as far as business is concerned, I have done extremely well and my family has done well and personally very well and so I have no wants there. What I do really want is to be able to spend more time with my family and my children and that's basically what's the missing piece in my life right now.
So the plan for the IPL is to host Twenty20 for 2 months every year, how do you see your enterprise going forward and cricket evolving in this country?
I think the IPL we will like to keep it as two seasons, a single season for the first three years we would like to move it to two seasons and we have another season in September. We are also looking at having a champions tournament, which is the champions Twenty20, which will be basically the two top teams in India playing the two top teams in England, playing two top teams in Australia and South Africa in a knockout series somewhere in the world, sometime in the month of October every year.
Lalit, you could well be the busiest man I have ever met, so thank you very much indeed for sparing the time to sit down with me today. Many thanks.
Thank you very much for having me.
Transcript: Kind courtesy, CNN Talk Asia
Photograph: Getty Images